31 May 2022

NRx — Neoreaction

This post assembles resources explaining who these “neo-reactionary” aka “NRx” folks are.

Critical overviews

  • RationalWiki (ongoing) offers a wealth of resources including relationships and contrasts with other movements, plus nerdy snark
  • TechCrunch (2013) has an overview with explanations of some key NRx vocabulary plus a pretty big index of links to other resources
  • Vanity Fair (2022) has a thoughtful deep dive by David Pogue looking at the culture of NRx and its relationship with other politics
  • Current Affairs (2022) has a roundtable discussion featuring Elizabeth Sandifer, whose book Neoreaction: A Basilisk (2018) is smart, witty, and suitiably unkind
  • QZ (2017) connects NRx to both tech culture and other far right movements
  • Mouthbreathing Machiavellis & Moldbug Variations (2014) from leftist culture commentary magazine The Baffler
  • Politico (2017) on Steve Bannon and his connection with both the “Alt Right” and NRx
  • Vox explains (2022) leading NRx thinker Curtis Yarvin aka Mencius Moldbug, and links him to Steve Bannon (2017)
  • Matt “The Dark Elf” McManus at Commonweal examines Yarvin’s peculiarities (2023), contrasting the anti-democratic “libertarianism” that he and Thiel represent against other far right movements
  • Mother Jones (2022) addresses Peter Thiel and Senate candidate Blake Masters (shading from NRx into Gray Tribe, see below)
  • The Darkness at the End of the Tunnel (2017) is a long discussion of the overlaps between NRx and a particular nerdy obsession with potential artificial intelligence, which Sandifer’s book linked above also addresses at length
  • Evil Nerd Theory (2024) explores the legacy of NRx and adjacent movements
  • Understanding The Tech Right (2023) is an instructive commentary from elsewhere on the far right by odious white nationalist Richard Hanania
  • Yarvin’s Case Against Democracy from the liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal calls him “too elitist for fascism”

Movement source texts

  • The Dark Enlightenment (2013?) is an early sort-of manifesto for the movement, and Meltdown (1997) is a poetic evocation of its sensibilities; if like me you are a middle-aged weirdo intellectual who remembers the cultural-theory-punk 1990s, it is helpful to situate author Nick Land as a there-but-for-the-grace cautionary demonstration of how we could have gone badly wrong
  • Unqualified Reservations (2007-2014) offers the collected NRx writing of Curtis “Mencius Moldbug” Yarvin
  • Nerdblog Slate Star Codex offers an overview “In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell” and an Anti-Reactionary FAQ (2013) which are useful, but I include them among sources from the movement because it turns out that the author is too sympathetic to them.

The texture of the movement

I find this tweetrant by Jay Allen <@a_man_in_black> a useful elaboration of what NRx is:

NRx is Neoreaction. Racist, monarchist nerds, with varying degrees of emphasis on each. Their version of SJWs/cultural Marxists is “the Cathedral”, a liberal academic conspiracy to marginalize them. NRx is against liberal bullshit like immigration, democracy, and human rights. NRx-ers envision a racially-pure autarky with an autocratic leader. The difference between them and fascists isn’t clear to me. They like to take credit for the entire alt right but responsibility for no one, inside or outside NRx. So of course half of the NRx screeds are against intellectual cowardice. NRx is popular with the [4chan] /pol/ crowd, natch.

Fascists romanticize violence; NRx’ers don’t. Fascists don’t really care about policy; NRx’ers do. Still: too close.

Okay I lied I do know the differences between NRx and fascism. NRx doesn’t (usually) idolize the military or demonize intellectualism. They have utopian or colonial ideas about achieving racial purity. They’ll convince all the undesirables to move away or all move somewhere with no undesirables (or no settlement at all). More Zionist than Ein Volk, Ein Reich.

NRx eschews solidarity, too. They aren’t a movement or an ideology, just a vague pile of shitty ideas. Their term for themselves is often “the University”, emphasizing their “diversity of thought”, opposing the Cathedral of liberals. Paralleling Eric Scott Raymond’s writing about the Cathedral and the Bazaar, in free software. (ESR is not NRx.)

NRx-ers are often freethought/atheists, manosphere/MRAs, and free software types, so they have their meanings for those communities’ terms. NRx-ers “redpill” converts, for example. NRx exalts “western civilization”, which is pretty much code for whiteness.

They have a complicated relationship with religion. NRx-ers alternately love Catholicism as traditional and eschew “superstition.”

NRx has that particular fringe tactic of being so fractious that they don’t have to take responsibility for each other. Everyone else is no true NRx-er.

Differences from fascism

NRx and fascism are both far right authoritarianisms, and are cousins in the shape of their reactionary sensibilities. They overlap in their dread of modernity as a deep threat (while being unmistakably modern themselves), their rejection of democracy and universal rights, their romanticization of the better culture of a poorly-specified past, and their odd futurism threaded into reactionary fantasies.

But it is a mistake to see them as simply the same.

Nationalism is a defining pillar of fascism; it yearns for a “strong” nation-state which reflects the character of its True People. NRx sees the nation-state instrumentally, and is sometimes directly skeptical of it as the right political form.

Fascism is resolutely irrationalist, imploring us to Trust Our Blood, enthusiastic about gut instinct and violence as positive goods triumphing over intellectuals and technocrats. NRx is not just rationalist but romantically rationalist, enthusiastic about nerdy technocrats controlling society, and insists that violence is unnecesary to achieve its aims.

Fascism dreams of a purge of the people who corrupt the nation — Everyone But The Volk — exemplified by the racism & antisemitism of the Nazis or the transphobia of MAGA. NRx dreams of eliminating the system of liberalism and liberal institutions which they imagine destroy our potential for greatness.

Because fascism’s authoritarianism leads to strong state interventions in the economy when fascists hold power, it is common to misunderstand fascism as having an economic policy agenda as communism and neoliberalism do, but fascism at root does not really care about policy any more than social & governance ideologies like monarchism or theocracy do. Neoreaction is not married to a specific economic policy agenda, but it sees economic policy as an essential function of governance, tending strongly toward enthusiasm for “unregulated” capitalism Unleashing The Genius Of Entrepreneurs And The Market.

This connects to different forms their authoritarianism takes. Fascism tends toward totalitarianism, the state intruding into everything, down to ensuring that art and architecture and individuals’ thoughts & feelings align with their vision. NRx loves the example of Singapore: a state unburdened by rights protections for individuals, but also hands-off in many ways, at once ruthless and minarchist.

Both yearn for “traditional” moral & social sensibilities, but come at it from opposite directions. Fascists see everything they want springing from A Strong Nation Of Virtuous People; they start from the fantasy of everyone to Living Right, assuming that quotidian policy questions of economics et cetera will just sort themselves out as a result. (I strongly recommend John Holbo’s long essay on that tendency among conservatives in general.) NRx starts from a libertarian-ish vision of Capitalism Unleashed Enabling The Best Of Us To Do Great Things, rationalizing from there that Science shows us that to achieve that we must cultivate a Smart, Industrious, Normal populace. To a lefty like me, both dreams are rationalizations of their aesthetic preferences in cultural norms, animated largely by misogyny and (usually) racist bigotry; we also see this in the turn some “libertarians” take to white nationalism. But the dynamics are different; libertarianism, fascism, and NRx are not simply equivalent.

Curtis Yarvin

Elsewhere on this blog, I said this about Yarvin:

Yarvin is an extraordinarily terrible person. Not just extraordinary in the degree of his terribleness, but in the kind of his terribleness.

Under the name “Mencius Moldbug” he wrote the blog Unqualified Reservations, in which he made very very long and complicated arguments about culture & politics which made him one of the leading figures in a small, energetic, strange, nerdy, evil movement of political ideas known as the “Dark Enlightenment” or “Neo-Reaction” or “NRx”.

Moldbug said that if one reads enough dead white reactionaries, one realizes that democracy stinks and liberalism is at war with human nature, so we would be better off if we appointed someone smart like Steve Jobs to be dictator of America. Or maybe we should clone Charles II and crown the clone king. After all, Singapore is authoritarian but a nice place to live and very economically productive. This long, tortured argument was full of repulsive asides like, “Golly, reviving slavery is probably not the best move, but while it is not a big deal to me, I have to admit that dead white reactionaries made a lot of persuasive arguments that slavery is actually a good idea, and if you think about it, Black people really are best suited to slavery, aren’t they? Not that I’m a white nationalist, though. Those guys are not as smart as I am.”

If you don’t know Moldbug, I know that sounds like a parody. It is not. That is a succinct taste of stuff the blog really said. I read a fair bit of it years ago, fascinated by its bizarre style and repulsive ideas.

Moldbug is not exactly a Nazi or a fascist; he reflects an idiosyncratic far right sensibility significantly different but equally horrible. Yarvin was not attached to a political movement which did anything real, they just said a bunch of crazy, evil stuff on the internet, but that is still quite bad enough. And though really just a blowhard, he is a dangerous, damaging blowhard. He has radicalized a bunch of nerds. Yarvin evidently had some kind of contact with the Trump campaign though the racist, fascist advisor Steve Bannon. Fascist or not, I cannot overstate how evil his ideas and influence are.

Rather than get fussy about which evil far-right nuts are According To Hoyle “fascists”, antifascists use the word “fash” as a term of art for the whole range of evil far right nuts. Moldbug is definitely fash, and I will refer to him as such here.

Yarvin & tech

This is deep geekery, but if you are digging into Curtis Yarvin, you may also want to know about his software infrastructure project Urbit and its implicit politics:

  • Popehat has about as accessible an introduction to what the heck Urbit itself is as one could hope for
  • Distributed Web Of Care has a smart critique of why Urbit’s structure is bad and concentrates power in some bad hands

Grey Tribe

In understanding these folks, it is also worth getting a sense of the adjacent-but-not-the-same “Gray Tribe” of libertarian-ish nerds disgusted by both liberal and conservative politics:

26 May 2022

Cowardly police

Enraged by reports that police spent most of an hour waiting outside while the Uvalde shooter murdered nineteen kids, a thread by Dan Kim (김명준) <@danielmkim>:

I can’t fucking sleep tonight. Kept thinking about one of my last calls as an EMT after reading about cops not willingly putting themselves in harm’s way. August 2001. I pulled my bus up just outside the PD cordon at the site of a DV [domestic violence] call. Lots of nervous Barney Fife types with their hands on their pistols, taking cover behind their cars, filling the radio with useless traffic. Fire dispatch briefed me enroute. Normally, no biggie, treat the DV victim(s) & transport.

This MFer was a 10-43: barricaded, probably armed, with hostages. I introduced myself to the on-scene commander, who looked the part: lean, muscular, confident voice & demeanor, lots of service hash marks on his sleeve. I say looked the part, because he sure as shit didn’t act that way as the night went on. You see, even with 5 or 6 cops with him, not to mention probable cause to enter the domicile, he wouldn’t. He wanted to wait for the county to send Emergency Service Unit (ESU), but those heavily armed meatheads would need an hour or more to spin up. Meanwhile, we waited & sweated. No negotiator, no ESU door kickers, couldn’t even get a helo to spotlight the house. I asked SGT M why he couldn’t move in with the cops he had. His answer blew me away & still makes me angry to this day.

M didn’t want to “unnecessarily risk” his officers. I was gobsmacked. Like, MFer, that badge means we all accept that risk. Fuck it, I’ll go. M told me to stand down. I told him to go fuck himself. We heard 2 shotgun blasts inside the house. One. Pause. Pause. Two. I knew what that meant, given the math, but it never registered with M or his officers. I felt sick. I told him he needed to go in now, so I could treat the hostages. He told me to stand down, ESU was on the move. One more shotgun blast.

M’s mouth kept opening & closing like a bass you just pulled out of the water. I told him I was going in because the risk was gone. M was right, I wasn’t an LEO [law enforcement officer], I had no business going in, but deep down, I knew my bag wouldn’t help any of the 3 people inside.

The fucking door wasn’t even locked. And I was right, there was nothing I could do. Wife took a 10-gauge shell to the neck in the bedroom. Bled out through her carotid. 3- or 4-year old child must’ve been hiding in the bathroom when Dad got to them.

DV perp turned the shotgun on himself, but didn’t manage to die right away. It was messy. He sounded like he was choking on his own blood. I wanted that kid to live more than any other patient I had in my time as an EMT. But I also knew that answer was no.

I still see that kid in my dreams, now & again. I see them every time I read about a school massacre. I see the murdered child, whose last thought was probably a fear that no one — let alone a fucking goddamn child — should ever have.

The perp? Fuck him. Let him choke agonizingly on his own blood. Yeah, I disregarded my training, but fuck that guy who just killed his family. M finally entered the house & asked why I wasn’t treating the perp. AYFKM?!

Long story short, my report (I thought) was a verbal flamethrower that would tank M’s career & any possible future as an LEO. Nothing. Fucking. Happened. Because I was just an EMT, not LE. What could I possibly know? M is now the deputy chief of his department.

I told @drjchernov earlier tonight that some people who can’t accept that their badge = risking their own life aren’t meant for PD/Fire/EMS. That’s the job. I did accept that, but I also realized I had other issues to deal with, unrelated to my EMT days.

There was also a quick side trip to the World Trade Center a month later, & that only confirmed that my decision was/remains the correct one for me at that time. Then I read that LEOs waited for backup in Uvalde while kids died, & this specific call came roaring back.

Fuck, I wouldn’t wish that kind of memory on my worst enemy. I saw the child again. Younger than yesterday’s victims, but still a child. Then I picked up my kids from school, & kept my utter & abject sense of relief to myself, hidden in anodyne questions about their day.

How fucking dare you? I’ll say it again, I don’t give one tenth of half a fuck — how dare you, you cowardly pieces of shit who aren’t worthy of the badges on your chests? Children died because of your inaction. Children died while you waited for fucking backup. Children died because you were either unable or unwilling to put your body between the perp & (I can’t stress this enough) defenseless fucking children whose only sin yesterday was to go to school wanting to learn & hang out with friends.

Now, typing this, all I can see is that child huddled between the tub & the toilet, hoping his dad wouldn’t do the unthinkable. Then seeing the results of what had been unthinkable. We all see the unthinkable on a weekly basis now. At least, news of it.

It’s time for that to change. This is macabre, but not new: if the victims’ families agree, publish the crime scene photos. Let America see what their passion for unfettered gun ownership hath wrought. Then maybe we’d get common sense gun laws like a background check.

Enough platitudes, I can’t swallow another one without wanting to puke. Fuck your thoughts & prayers. Politicians, you have the statutory power to do something about this scourge. Yet. You. Do. Fuck. All.

Do it for children who just want to play during recess. Do it for folks shopping socializing at a supermarket because racist zoning rules made that a gathering place. Do it for congregants at a synagogue, patients at a Planned Parenthood clinic. Do it for Asian salon workers in Atlanta & Dallas. Do it for your country, as alien as that concept might sound to you. Like The Onion says after all such massacres - not mass shootings, these are massacres - “No way to prevent this, says only nation where this regularly happens”


Keeping this one in my pocket for the next time some cop brags about being a “sheepdog” who “puts my life on the line to protect people”.

If you don’t recognize the sheepdog thing, it is violent authoritarian propaganda commonly taught to cops which casts them as “sheepdogs” gifted with the impulse to violence which enables them to protect ordinary citizens — (sheep) from Violent Criminals (wolves). Most famous for turning up in the creepy American Sniper film.

This pairs with another bit from Cliff 🦖 Jerrison <@pervocracy>:

I feel like the facts still aren’t out on the Uvalde police response but one thing that seems really clear and not for the first time is that cops in fear for their lives act in the exact opposite manner from cops “in fear for their lives”.

if the conceit of thinbluelineism is that we need to tolerate unaccountable and vicious men among us, and the damage they cause, so that there’s someone even scarier than the bad guys ready to fight when shit really goes down

well, oops

The “in fear for their lives business” is, of course, how cops justify killing people, as they do a thousand times a year, literally. Among others.

This is reflected in another Twitter thread, from Chaos Bride Kyelaag <@Monstrous_Fest>:

Folks are talking about police a bunch, and that’s something I might actually be able to provide context for.

Police are never, and will never be, required to endanger themselves in any way for any reason. This has been litigated thoroughly.

The argument cop reps make is that nobody’s job can require that they jump in front of bullets like weird nerds for idiot tech moguls.

This argument is reasonable! Nobody’s job should demand the employee’s death as a condition of employment.

The obvious problem, of course, is that cops’ job is purportedly to protect people from violence.

The corollary is that this is not a cop’s actual job. They have no duty to prevent violence, no duty to put themselves at any risk, no duty to help anyone.

No cop will ever be punished for refusing to help, ever. Or refusing to risk anything.

This is why cops insist so hard that their jobs are intrinsically dangerous! They don’t have to take any risks, so their narratives emphasize that they are actually the victims.

Corollary: never, ever believe anything a press release tells you about what cops do or did, because cops tailor them very carefully.

This is why cops primarily assault people who are not armed, and why they do so with deadly weapons. To minimize risk.

The primary responsibility of any individual cop is to minimize risk to themselves.

No cops ‘confronted’ the shooter, because they could have gotten hurt. No cops entered the school, because they could have gotten hurt.

The tricky bit here is that they didn’t let parents help.

Because once they’re on scene, and protecting themselves, if they had let other people get involved they would have increased the risk to themselves, the cops.

And the cops’ job is to show up, protect themselves, and document their fear of risk.

That’s it.

This easily gets tangled up in the PR cops have done in the past. “To protect and serve” is not a statement of duty. No cop is required to protect or to serve. Most of us have some perception of a “good cop” who has responsibilities.

That is fiction.

Thanks, Terry Pratchett.

Any portrayal of a “good cop” is not a portrayal of a cop engaging in their job. If a cop helps someone for any reason, it is entirely external to their identity as a cop. They might have done a “good thing”, but a doctor who holds the door isn’t necessarily a “good doctor.”

Eliminate this fiction wherever you recognize yourself engaging in it.

Never fucking watch die hard again. Or a police procedural.

Because when we collectively think cops should be responsible or do any good, in the smallest way possible, they will not.

This is why it’s more dangerous to be literally anyone else than to be a cop.

Everyone’s job requires interaction with danger. Traffic. Violent customers. Dealing with cops. Hospitality is incredibly dangerous!

Cops make up a guy and then kill him for their own safety.

Institutionally, police are pretty much the only profession that permits its members to arm themselves against a hypothetical threat and then kill anyone who overlaps with it.

The rest of us have to be polite and bandage ourselves and hope. Cops don’t.

This is, as a corollary, why cops hate civilians so much.

If a cop is in danger it is because a civilian inconvenienced them.

Something bad happened, and a civilian saw a cop nearby or attempted to invoke one.

This causes risk to the cop. Punishable by death.

Takeaway: it is dangerous just to call the police. It is more dangerous, in many ways, to call them, because by exposing them to danger you give them excuses to punish, assault, or kill you.

And, as above, their job is to identify risk and then eliminate the source.

In Uvalde, this is what happened. Cops were seen by civilians, and they did what cops do. They protected themselves, and then controlled the most convenient source of risk to their jobs — the civilians that saw them.

And then they lied about it. Poorly.

The description of the lack of police obligation to help having been litigated thorougly may sound implausible, but it is true:

This case builds upon Supreme Court precedent in Deshaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (1989). In that case, a young boy was repeatedly abused at the hands of his father, something that county Social Services was aware of, but made no effort to remove the child. His mother sued once the four-year old entered a vegetative state, and the Court ruled that that the state did not have a special obligation to protect a citizen against harms it did not create.

Based on these precedents, Lozito was told in the New York City case that “no direct promises of protection were made” to him, and therefore he could not sue the police for failing to come to his aid. In other words, the police do not have to act if someone is actively being harmed, they do not have to arrest someone who has violated orders, and they do not have any obligation to protect you from others.

Most of us like to imagine, or at least hope, that we would place ourselves between children and a killer, even if we were barehanded. Anyone who would not — or worse, who did not while still expecting to be called “brave” rather than feel shame for their cowardice — has no business carrying a badge, much less a gun.

11 May 2022

This American moment of reälignment

A Twitter thread from Thomas Zimmer describes very well my own read of the mechanics of the dangerous fecklessness of the Democratic Party in this moment. Here’s a taste:

The fundamental asymmetry of American politics is captured precisely by the fact that Pelosi won’t stop with the “strong GOP” nostalgia while no one on the Republican side would even consider saying something like this about the Democratic Party. It’s so bizarre.


One important explanatory factor is age: People like Pelosi came up in a very different political environment, when there was indeed a great deal of bipartisan cooperation in Congress — and they are longing for a return to the days of amity across party lines.

Additionally, this inability to grapple in earnest with the post-Obama reality in which Democratic politicians are almost universally considered members of an “Un-American” faction by most Republicans has deeper ideological roots.

I strongly recommend reading the whole thing. (I archived it at the bottom of this post, in case Twitter fails.) And it got me ranting on Twitter, which I have refined here.

Geezer Democrats’ confused nostalgia for Working With Republicans is driven by memories reaching all of the way back to the Nixon era, misunderstanding the history of major American political reälignments. So we have to talk about that history to understand the dynamics on the right side of the aisle which brought us here.

FDR created a political era shaped by the New Deal and its legacy of the regulatory and social insurance state. The Democratic Party became the party of New Deal liberalism; Republicans became the party of Sure, But Slow Down There Bucko.

Through the long middle of the 20th century, the parties were ideologically incoherent in today’s terms. The Democrats were the more liberal side but their coalition included the racist whites of the South who still refused to vote for Lincoln’s party, which is why many New Deal policies set terms for “universal” benefits which in practice excluded Black people. The Republicans largely opposed Democrats’ liberal social insurance policies, but had to respond to those policies’ popularity. These ideological coalitions shaped by the popularity of New Deal policy explain why Republican Presidents Eisenhower & Nixon seem oddly liberal on policy to contemporary eyes.

Nixon started the process of breaking the New Deal political order with his Southern Strategy of appealing to racist whites in the South. Reagan secured that shift, bringing millions of former Democratic voters into a new Republican coalition which would become the new lodestar of US politics replacing the New Deal: movement conservatism.

Movement conservatism bound together pseudo-libertarian neoliberalism dedicated to tearing down the regulatory and social insurance state of the New Deal (for the benefit of corporations aka rich people) with “social conservatism” of racism, sexism, and Christian nationalism. This coalition does not really make sense, but Reagan figured out how to say that New Deal universal social insurance and public goods are bad because they benefit undeserving (Black) people without it sounding harsh or nonsensical, which is why conservatives still revere him.

Reagan made movement conservatism the new lodestar of US politics, just as FDR had done with the New Deal. The Democrats became the party of Sure, But Slow Down There Bucko.

Geezer Democrats like Biden & Pelosi learned to do politics during Reagan’s administration as this new US politics took shape. New Deal liberalism was bleeding but not yet dead, so Democrats held enough power to force Republicans in Congress to work with them for a while. Though the neoliberal turn by the Dems had its organic element — in retrospect we can see Carter as a proto-neolib — since movement conservatism crushed Democrats in elections time and time again when they tried the old New Deal playbook, the neolibs were the last Democrats standing, and Clinton’s administration secured their hold on the Party. The long Reagan moment, in which there was politics to do be done by slowly capitulating to movement conservatism as the new center of US politics, is the lost Arcadia which Pelosi describes yearning to return to. Her cohort came to understand the Slow Down There Bucko moves of WJC & BHO — NAFTA, balancing the budget, financial de-regulation, welfare “reform”, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Heritage Foundation’s healthcare plan — as how effective operators win elections and pass legislation. In their experience, any other moves are dangerously naïve, a loser at the ballot. They had an intense formative experience in the last quarter of the 20th century which taught them that working the playbook progressives advocate would be catastrophic, leaving Democrats with nothing.

As Zimmer’s Twitter thread shows, though, those geezer Democrats have not registered how Republican politics came to work under the long reign of movement conservatism. The True Believers of the movement conservative coalition are the “social conservatives” who think that they are the only Real Americans. The nihilists of the coalition just care about winning for their corporate friends, rather than about good governance … or democracy. Both parts of this electoral crew framed Democrats not merely as political opponents who were wrong — since that would have required arguing against liberal policy on the merits, which is hard — but rather framed Democrats as entirely illegitimate.

Many liberals draw an unwholesome comfort from believing that the Republican denial of Democrats’ legitimacy reflects a racist rejection of BHO and a sexist rejection of HRC and nothing else. I have talked about that before with respect to HRC’s Presidential candidacy:

If the Republican candidate for President in 2016 had been a movement conservative — Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz or one of those guys — she would have crushed him like a bug.

But that was not the race we got.

The vitriol HRC & BHO faced from conservatives certainly was full of sexism & racism … but it was also there from Republican press and politicians during Bill Clinton’s Presidency. He faced endless absurd bullshit extending to the Wall Street Journal editorial page crediting crackpot nonsense routinely. As did Al Gore. As did John Kerry. As did Howard Dean. As does Joe Biden. The vast rightwing conspiracy has been working the refs for so long that a blizzard of nonsense for anyone left of the center of the Republican Party is baked in.

This refusal to actually engage with Democrats was the core strategy of the Gingrich cohort of Republicans in Congress elected in ’94, and conservatives and the Republican Party extended this denial of legitimacy to any small-d democratic institutions which denied them power in the fight over the 2000 Presidential election results. Republicans defied the popular vote, cheated in plain sight, and sacrificed the independence of the Supreme Court … to win against Al Gore of all people, the square white guy whom neolib centrist Bill Clinton picked as his campaign running mate in order to secure his right flank.

Figures like William F. Buckley had purged the far right wackos when they were building movement conservatism in the 1960s, but in the 1990s conservative media brought the nuts back in. Limbaugh and Fox “News” and the rest have skimmed the crazies looking for ideas which stick for the last 30 years now, leading conservative media further and further toward the far right each year.

Conservative media parallels the Republican Party leadership’s weird alliance of True Believer zealots and opportunistic Nihilists. All of these people benefit from denying Democrats’ & liberals’ fundamental legitimacy. The True Believers want Republican voters radicalized this way, because they really do believe that liberals are not Real Americans, while the Nihilists do not care so long as it buys them victories. After a few decades of this, the Republican Party and conservative media have pushed their voters further and further into denying liberals’ legitimacy in governance, or even as citizens.

This puts Republican electeds in a trap of their movement’s own making. If they engage in good faith with Democrats at all, they lose primaries against challengers who will oppose Democrats out of obstinate anti-liberalism. The Republican Party cannot bring back the Arcadia which geezer Democrats dream of, even if they wanted to.

At this point, the original dynamic of movement conservatism has completely reversed. Instead of Nihilist pseudo-libertarian neolibs with corporate money driving Republican policy by coating it in “socially conservative” rhetoric pushed through controlled media to bigoted voters, the Nihilists desperately chase after the True Believers. The tail wags the dog.

The success of DJT’s candidacy for the Republican nomination in 2016 emerged from these dynamics. The Republican Party establishment tried to discredit him, but they no longer called the tune. Even had DJT lost the election, his candidacy would have left movement conservatism as shattered as it is now, since movement conservatism had been barely holding togther, cracked beyond repair. The Republican Party — the entire conservative complex — dreads their nuttiest supporters. Conservative media platforms need the audience, so they feed the crazy; the Party needs the voters, so they pander. True Believers do not control the Republicans — at this moment no one does — but more and more of them now hold elected office.

One can miss how big this shift was because Trump’s disinterest in any actual governance kept the movement conservative policy zombie on its feet; rich sponsors of the destruction of the regulatory state still got their legislative victories. But the True Believers no longer need the Nihilists’ institutional support and thus no longer need to follow their lead on policy.

With this implosion and reversal, the Republican Party currently undergoing an internal reälignment as profound as the emergences of the New Deal and movement conservatism — and since the Democrats settled into standing for The Movement Conservative Agenda But Less for the last 30 years, they too will necessarily undergo a corresponding transformation. But Democratic leadership only know how to run the playbook that weathered the long neoliberal winter of movement conservatism, a world we cannot return to even if that were desirable.

The current Republican Party is terrifying. The term for politics which rejects the legitimacy of any politics or citizens occupying any other position, which uses liberal democratic norms in bad faith to destroy libdem institutions, which cares more about theatre than policy, which has a cult of personality around a hateful blatherer is … fascism. I do not think we arrived at a new era with a fully fascist Republican Party and a Democratic Party of Just Not Fascism. Things remain in motion. The Republicans could land in a different place, like maybe Strong Social Democracy But Only For Married People With Kids or something like that — but most of the possibilities are bad.

And a Republican Party which does go fully fascist would be a nightmare. Just Not Fascism describes most voters but it does not constitute either an electoral coalition or a governing coalition. A fascist Party would lose a lot of elections because fascism is unpopular, but determined fascists only have to win once because they will make sure to never allow a free election again.

The music will stop soon, and anyone who has not found a chair will be locked out of American politics for at least a couple of generations. The Democrats must seize the tiller and make sure that they, and not this Republican Party, define the new lodestar of US politics which will replace the movement conservatism which replaced New Deal liberalism. Yet sclerotic Democratic Party leaders cannot even see a need for a response to this moment of reälignment, much less offer a path through it.

Here is Zimmer’s entire thread:

I want the Republican Party to take back the party to where you were when you cared about a woman’s right to choose, you cared about the environment. Here I am, Nancy Pelosi, saying this country needs a strong Republican Party. Not a cult.

The fundamental asymmetry of American politics is captured precisely by the fact that Pelosi won’t stop with the “strong GOP” nostalgia while no one on the Republican side would even consider saying something like this about the Democratic Party. It’s so bizarre.

In a vacuum, yes, a functioning democracy should have several democratic parties competing with each other. But this type of fact-free nostalgia only perpetuates the myth of a GOP that was only recently captured by extremists — an aberration from the noble Republican norm. That mythical tale is utterly inadequate historically — the Republican Party that “cared about a woman's right to choose” and “cared about the environment” hasn’t existed since at least the 1970s, when conservatives became the dominating faction within the GOP.

What Pelosi is saying is significant, however, as a manifestation of much of the Democratic establishment’s inability to reckon with the radicalizing Republican assault on democracy and civil rights. I wrote about this a while ago for the Guardian:

The Republican party is abandoning democracy. There can be no ‘politics as usual’.

Many in the Democratic establishment act as if politics as usual is still an option and a return to “normalcy” imminent, even as Republicans could not be clearer about the fact that they consider Democrats the real enemy and Democratic governance fundamentally illegitimate.

One important explanatory factor is age: People like Pelosi came up in a very different political environment, when there was indeed a great deal of bipartisan cooperation in Congress — and they are longing for a return to the days of amity across party lines.

Additionally, this inability to grapple in earnest with the post-Obama reality in which Democratic politicians are almost universally considered members of an “Un-American” faction by most Republicans has deeper ideological roots. Some establishment Democrats seem to feel a kinship with their Republican opponents grounded in a worldview of white elite centrism and status-quo dogma — they seem to believe that it is high time to push back against the “radical” forces of “leftism” and “wokeism.”

This helps explain why so many who are supposedly in the Democratic camp reflexively defend reactionary Supreme Court justices against relatively tame protests, defining peaceful demonstrations for civil rights and against the powerful as an illegitimate breach of “civility.” Much of the (older) Democratic establishment seems to be looking at the mobilization of civil society against reactionary conservative elites less as “We’re finally coming for you” and more as “They’re coming for all of us”. Not exactly a defense of democracy and civil rights. The Right’s dogma that the world works best when it’s run by (predominantly wealthy, predominantly male) white elites — that this is, in fact, the “natural order” of things that needs to be defended and upheld — evidently has some appeal beyond the conservative camp. Many Democratic elites also seem all too willing to accept conservative ideas of who represents the “real America,” and they still seem to operate from a premise of defining “white” as the American “normal” — which leads them to emphasize the interests of the GOP base.

The GOP has been focused almost solely on the interests and sensibilities of white conservatives for decades and Republicans are explicitly claiming to be the sole proponents of this “real” (read: white Christian patriarchal) America. That’s why conservatives are willing to dismiss numerical Democratic majorities: They don’t count because they are based on a coalition of people whose status as members of the body politic is, at best, considered provisional and can always be revoked.

Many Democrats seem to have a hard time shaking such ideas of the (white) “normal,” of who does / doesn’t count as “real America.” And so they seem unwilling to go against those “real” Americans, opting to go against the interests of their own majority coalition instead.

The constant attempts to normalize a radicalizing Republican Party also have a lot to do with two foundational myths that have always shaped the collective imaginary: the myth of American exceptionalism and the myth of white innocence. Much of the Democratic elite still subscribes to an exceptionalist understanding that America is fundamentally good and inexorably on its way to overcoming whatever vestigial problems there might still be. It builds on a mythical tale of America’s past, describing democracy as old, consolidated, and exceptionally stable, ignoring the fact that multiracial democracy started not even 60 years ago. Acknowledging what the GOP has become goes against the pillars of that worldview.

To the extent that Democrats acknowledge, as Pelosi does, that there is something very wrong with the current GOP, they tend to present this as the result of an unfortunate and very recent departure from the Grand Old Party’s true noble self. It’s not difficult to understand the appeal of this aberrationist tale: If the problem is just that the true Republican Party has been captured by a few extremists, then all we need to do is to encourage all those good Republicans to stand up and take back their party. In this interpretation, what’s currently happening in American politics is basically just an unfortunate hiccup. No deeper ideological struggle detected, no need to revise the fundamental tale of America’s ever-progressing, ever-perfecting democracy.

In this way, the Democratic establishment’s “Make the GOP Great Again” nostalgia is also shaped by the paradigm of white innocence: Whatever animates white people’s extremism, it must not be racism and they cannot be blamed for their actions. The myth of white innocence has a sanitizing effect on the American political discourse: Economic anxiety, anti-elite backlash, or just liberals being mean — the incentive for politicians and pundits alike is to reach for non-incriminating explanations. The idea of white innocence also clouds the perspective on Republican elites: Since they cannot possibly be animated by reactionary white nationalism, they must be motivated by more benign forces — maybe they are just cowards, or they’re being seduced by the mean demagogue.

What about white Christian nationalist extremists like Marjorie Taylor Greene who so very obviously don’t fit into the “Just seduced/scared to speak up” framework? They are exceptionalized: The fringe, the cult, as Pelosi says, an occupying force separate from the real GOP.

The president often tells the world how he likes Mitch McConnell, considers him a friend — perpetuating that same myth of the noble GOP that just temporarily lost its way: No matter what those “good” Republicans do, underneath they’re nice guys, they’ll snap out of it.

I get on with Mitch. I actually like Mitch McConnell. We like one another.

Politically, Democrats are in a tough situation. Pelosi gets a lot of applause for her “Strong GOP” nostalgia; Biden is measured by whether or not he can “unify” the country — not just by much of the established media, but also by a significant portion of Democratic voters. But what’s on display here isn’t just politics — it’s a specific worldview that prevents Democratic elites from acknowledging the depths of GOP radicalization, and from grappling honestly with the very difficult question of how to counter it effectively.

Ultimately, the “Strong GOP” nostalgia obscures the long-standing anti-democratic tendencies on the Right, the role of “normal” Republicans like Mitch McConnell, or the conservative legal movement’s decades-long crusade against the post-1960s civil rights order. Pretending the Republican Party was a noble, (small-d) democratic force for good until very recently is just political fiction; wishing such a party into existence won’t work.

Better to grapple with the GOP that actually exists — the one that’s an acute threat to democracy.

I made numerous small clarifying edits to this post 23 June 2023.